daring bakers: dobos torte

it’s that time of the month again... the august 2009 daring bakers' challenge was hosted by angela of a spoonful of sugar and lorraine of not quite nigella. they chose the spectacular dobos torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus:exquisite desserts from the classic caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. 

the dobos torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel and was invented in 1885 by József c. obos, a Hungarian baker. the recipe was a secret until dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest confectioners' and gingerbread makers' chamber of industry.

so, how did i get on?

cake – instead of baking a cake and slicing it horizontally to create the thin layers this recipe calls for you to bake each cake individually. a circle is drawn onto a sheet of greaseproof paper, you cover the disc with cake mix and then bake it. i’d never tried this free-form approach so it interesting to do. time consuming too, making all 7 layers, despite each cake only taking c6 minutes to cook.

buttercream – this recipe for american buttercream made me nervous as i’ve had problems with meringue-style buttercreams in the past, thankfully it came together okay although the recipe made twice as much as i needed. i wasn’t a big fan of the flavour – despite using 85% dark chocolate it tasted like a very sweet milk chocolate icing which was too rich for me.

caramel wedges – the wedges are made by covering one layer of cake with caramel. i think the wedges were meant to be slightly crunchy but mine didn’t set hard, with the caramel staying slightly soft and sticky to the touch.

the final verdict:

  • would i have tried this recipe if it hadn't been part of the daring bakers challenge? no – the cake looked incredibly rich and that meringue buttercream always puts me off recipes!
  • would i try this recipe again in the future? no. the different components actually work together really well but the cake is too rich and sweet for me. it was great to learn the technique of free-form cake making though and i will use this again.

dobos torte (serves 8-10)

6 eggs, separated, at room temperature

160g icing sugar, divided into two portions

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (substitute 95g plain flour + 3 tablespoons cornflour sifted together)

pinch of salt

chocolate buttercream

4 eggs, at room temperature

200g caster sugar

100g plain chocolate, finely chopped

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature.

caramel topping

200g caster sugar

180ml water

40ml lemon juice

1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

finishing touches

12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted

50g peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

directions for the sponge layers (which can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with greaseproof and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight):

position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 200c. cut six (i needed seven) pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets and using the bottom of a 9" springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter).

beat the egg yolks, ½ the icing sugar and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.

in another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. gradually beat in the remaining icing sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. using a large rubber spatula, stir about a ¼ of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. combine the flour and salt then sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. using a small spatula, spread about 1/6 of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. while this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. when the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. slide the cake layer back onto the paper, use the bottom of the tray to press it down lightly so you get even layers, and let stand until cool. rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. completely cool the layers. using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round, using a small serrated knife (i didn’t bother with this).

directions for the chocolate buttercream, which can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required:

prepare a bain marie, quarter-filling a large saucepan with water and bringing it to a boil. choose a bowl which will fit over the pan without touching the water.

in your bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. fit the bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes. scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. it should be quite thick and sticky in consistency. when cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 30g) at a time. an electric hand mixer is great (necessary!) here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. you should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. chill while you make the caramel topping.

directions for the caramel topping:

choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top, cut it into twelve evenly sized wedges and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper (let it reach room temperature if you’ve refrigerated the cake). lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and a spatula.

stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. bring to a boil over a medium heat. once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel. immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake pieces. using the spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds, and use the tip of the hot oiled knife to separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). cool completely.

assembling the dobos:

place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of plate or cardboard round and top with one cake layer. spread the layer with a thin layer of chocolate icing. repeat with the remaining cake layers. spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake. press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.

propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. if you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.